For generations to come, Lesser Slave River locals, neighbouring municipalities and the world at large will recount what happened here in the spring of 2011. These major wildfires dealt a devastating blow to our region; but valuable lessons on how to prepare for, respond to and recover from a disaster were learned at every turn.
Every town, county and municipal district in Alberta has its unique threats and weak spots. Near misses and critical events sometimes occur, and our shared responsibility as managers of these communities is to prepare for these situations and mitigate their effects as effectively as possible. From front-line firefighters to office administrators, every municipal employee has a role and a responsibility during times of crisis.

Practical Emergency Preparedness Advice

Ready-to-Go Kit

Keep ready-to-go kit items in a backpack, duffle bag or suitcase, in an accessible place, such as a front-hall closet. Make sure your kit is easy to carry, and everyone in the house knows where it is. Take it with you if you have to leave your house so you can be safe.

  • 4L of water per person
  • Food that you don't have to keep cold
  • Manual can opener
  • Plastic/paper plates, cups, knives, forks, spoons
  • Flashlight and extra batteries
  • Change of clothes
  • Card with emergency contact information and the number of someone to call who lives out of town
  • Pet food and supplies for at least three days
  • Small first-aid kit
  • Personal ID card
  • Personal hygiene items, soap, hand sanitizer

Store medicine you usually take near your ready-to-go kit.

Bedding and Clothing

  • Change of clothing (short- and long-sleeve shirts, pants, socks, undergarments)
  • Plastic and cloth sheets
  • Raincoat/emergency poncho/jacket
  • Sleeping bags/blankets/emergency heat blankets per person
  • Spare shoes

Equipment

  • Axe/pocket knife
  • Basic tools
  • Dishes and utensils
  • Duct tape
  • Flares
  • Manual can opener
  • Pen and paper
  • Radio (with spare batteries/hand operated crank)
  • Rope
  • Shovel
  • Small stove with fuel (follow manufacturer’s directions for operation and storage)
  • Whistle

Food and Water

We recommend stocking a three-day supply of non-perishables per person, including:

  • Canned juice Water (4L per person; include small bottles to carry with you)
  • Canned meat, fish and beans
  • Crackers and cereals
  • Protein/granola bars
  • Trail mix/dried fruit

Light and Fuel

  • Hand-crank flashlight or battery-operated flashlights/lamps
  • Extra batteries
  • Flares
  • Candles
  • Lighter
  • Waterproof matches

Personal Documents and Money

  • Cash in small bills
  • Copy of your emergency plan and contact information
  • Credit card/s
  • Insurance policies
  • Legal documents (birth and marriage certificates, wills, passports, contracts)
  • Prepaid phone cards

Personal Supplies and Medication

  • Cleaning supplies (hand sanitizer, dish soap, etc.)
  • First-aid kit
  • Garbage bags
  • Medication (acetaminophen, ibuprofen, children’s medication, etc., and 3-day supply of prescription medication)
  • Pet food and supplies
  • Toiletries (toilet paper, feminine hygiene, toothbrush)
  • Toys/reading material

Emergency Event Considerations for Municipal Leaders

Administration

  • Train all staff and Council on emergency response procedures. Ensure your team is adequately prepared to deal with demanding situations, emotional stress and physical exhaustion.
  • Foster a culture of respect and ownership within your workplace. In a time of crisis, individual initiative and decisiveness are imperative.
  • Document everything; scribe from the moment of a potential risk. Use voice notes so that nothing is missed.
  • Take a five to ten minute break every two hours. During a prolonged disaster situation, clear heads will prevail.
  • Ensure that all staff have proper identification at all times.
  • Don't ever let a culture of complacency set in, and don't ever think it can't happen to you.

Communications

  • Have a communications strategy in place. If you don't, others will be established that you may have no control over.
  • Information in a crisis is generally unclear and ambiguous. Try to communicate simply, clearly and consistently. Have a direct chain of command for messaging.
  • Make sure you're getting the word out on all progress. People will be hyper-vigilant for even the smallest piece of information.
  • Identify and maintain regular contact with key agencies. Ensure you know how to contact key individuals and organizations after hours.

Emergency Operations

  • Plan for the rescue and relocation of abandoned pets and livestock.
  • Have a strategy in place for providing essentials like food and shelter for emergency personnel and support crews who arrive on site.
  • Utilize external incident command and emergency response personnel. These people are highly trained and emotionally detached from the given situation. Augment these teams with local resources.
  • Maintain a current list of essential service providers such as merchants, gas stations, campgrounds, portable toilets, etc.

Finance

  • Beware of those looking to profit from disaster. Scrutinize all spending and purchase orders despite a state of local emergency.

  • Establish finance operations immediately to later augment disaster recovery reporting. Contract an accounting firm if necessary.

Evacuation

  • Have a good information management system in place. Know who your residents and businesses are and how to contact them at a moment's notice.
  • Evacuate hospitals and long-term care facilities sooner versus later.
  • Put residents on a two-hour evacuation notice at the earliest possible opportunity. This gives them adequate time to collect personal effects and prepare themselves emotionally.
  • Contact the evacuation centers that assisted with the Lesser Slave River crisis (such as Westlock or Athabasca) and ask for input on how to properly manage a reception facility.

Information Technology

  • Maintain replicated servers off-site so data can be properly backed up and easily retrieved.
  • Have a robust geographic information (GIS) system in place. Knowing the lay of the land will prove essential.
  • Invest in radio communications equipment. Ensure staff know where radios are located and how to use them.
  • Test your back-ups. If it's not tested, it's not a back-up.

Regional Firefighting

  • When resources are committed to one event, ensure that adequate reserves are brought in from other areas.
  • Know where and how to get alternate water if yours runs out.

Waste Management

  • FireSmart your landfill infrastructure.
  • Be prepared to operate waste management systems manually for several days in the event of a power outage.
  • Store excess fuel on-site just in case.

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